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Clean

1989 (2014)

“Clean” is the thirteenth and last song on the standard edition of Taylor’s fifth studio album, 1989 (2014). She compares getting over a past relationship to sobriety. Therefore, it has a lot of different references between addiction and moving on from a relationship.

Background

On “Clean”, Taylor collaborated with one of her heroes, the British folktronica singer-songwriter Imogen Heap. She had mentioned in an interview that she would love to work with her and was really excited when she got an email from Imogen, saying, “Why don’t you come over to my studio? It’s actually where I live too.’ So when Taylor was in London for her “The RED Tour” in February 2014, she drove hours out of the city to meet with her. and went to her studio.

In preperation for the meeting, Taylor had come up with a songwriting idea. During a private Grammy Pro meeting in October 2015, she said: “When you get your heart broken, or you loose someone from your life, or when you’re trying to recover from a breakup, it’s almost the same kind of struggle that someone goes through when trying to beat addiction. It’s not one habit your breaking, it’s every single minute of the day you’re breaking a habit. And it’s exhausting. I had this metaphor in my head about being in this house. There’s been a drought but you feel like there’s a storm coming, and so instead of blocking out the storm you punch a hole in the roof and just let all the rain come in. And when you wake up in the morning, it’s washed away everything that used to hurt you. And then you’re clean.” She said that “Shake It Off” and “Clean” were the last two songs she wrote for the record. “It shows you where I ended up mentally.”

Lyrical Theme

1989 can be interpreted as one singular storyline. It starts with Taylor moving to New York after having her heart broken and eventually ends with her feeling a new sense of self on “Clean.” The entire time she had been going back and forth with one guy, but at the end of the album she decides to let him go. The “secret message” for “Clean” reads “She lost him but she found herself and somehow that was everything.” In an interview with Elle in May 2015, Taylor shared the real story behind the song:

«'Clean' I wrote as I was walking out of Liberty in London. Someone I used to date – it hit me that I’d been in the same city as him for two weeks and I hadn’t thought about it. When it did hit me, it was like, ‘Oh, I hope he’s doing well’. And nothing else. And you know how it is when you’re going through heartbreak. A heartbroken person is unlike any other person. Their time moves at a completely different pace than ours. It’s this mental, physical, emotional ache and feeling so conflicted. Nothing distracts you from it. Then time passes, and the more you live your life and create new habits, you get used to not having a text message every morning saying, ‘Hello, beautiful. Good morning.’ You get used to not calling someone at night to tell them how your day was. You replace these old habits with new habits, like texting your friends in a group chat all day, and planning fun dinner parties, and going out on adventures with your girlfriends, and then all of a sudden one day you’re in London and you realize you’ve been in the same place as your ex for two weeks and you’re fine. And you hope he’s fine. The first thought that came to my mind was – I’m finally clean.»

Taylor Swift

Production

The thing Taylor enjoyed most about working with Imogen was that there was no one else in the studio. There was no assistant, there was no enigineer. It was just Imogen doing everything. “She’s recording vocals, and editing, creating the track, playing the instruments – I was absolutely astonished by that level of talent and skill.” Taylor recorded her vocals in two takes. Afterwards, she asked Imogen to add her signature background vocals to the song. “I thought she did some kind of effect to her voice to make it sound like that and she doesn’t. It just sounds like that when she sings out of her mouth – which was wild, oh my God!” After nine hours, Imogen sent Taylor the finished mix the next day.

Imogen opened up about how she and Taylor wrote and finished the song in less than a day. You can read her “journal entry” on her blog, here.

Alternate Meaning

“Clean” can be interpreted in many different ways. Taylor herself shared a different, more personal meaning of the song when 1989 came out in October 2014:

«'Clean‘ is the last song on the album for a lot of reasons, but mostly because it felt like the complication of this emotional process I’ve been going through for the last couple of years. You know, I feel like my personal life was really, really discussed, and criticized, and debated, and talked about to a point where it made me feel almost kind of tarnished, in a way. And the discussion wasn’t about music. It broke my heart that I had made an album that I was proud of, and I was touring the world, and playing sold-out stadiums, and still they managed to only want to talk about my personal life. At a certain point I felt a switch and it was at the end of recording this album that I began to feel like my life was mine again and my music was at the forefront again. I was living my life on my own terms and I really no longer cared what people were saying about me. That was when I started so see people talk less about the things that didn’t matter.»

Taylor Swift
“Clean” also has a different meaning to people who have had struggles with mental illness, addiction, and abuse. While Taylor didn’t think of that meaning originally, she immediately accepted the interpretation. She gave several inspirational speeches before performing “Clean” on her “The 1989 World Tour.” Those speeches became known as “The Clean Speech.”

Taylor's Version

In October 2022, Imogen Heap seemed to hint at re-recording “Clean” in an Instagram Story, writing: “Been working on a little rework of a certain song for a certain artist while the studio is free. Been up all night. Haven’t played this piano or been at the Round House for ages!”

Lyrics

[Verse 1]
The drought was the very worst
When the flowers that we’d grown together died of thirst
It was months and months of back and forth
You’re still all over me
Like a wine-stained dress I can’t wear anymore

[Pre-chorus 1]
Hung my head as I lost the war
and the sky turned black like a perfect storm

[Chorus 1]
Rain came pouring down when I was drowning
That’s when I could finally breathe
And by morning gone was any trace of you
I think I am finally clean

[Verse 2]
There was nothing left to do
When the butterflies turned to dust that covered my whole room
So I punched a hole in the roof
Let the flood carry away all my pictures of you

[Pre-chorus 2]
The water filled my lungs
I screamed so loud but no one heard a thing

[Chorus 2]
Rain came pouring down when I was drowning
That’s when I could finally breathe
And by morning gone was any trace of you
I think I am finally clean
I think I am finally clean
Said I think I am finally clean

[Bridge]
Ten months sober, I must admit
Just because you’re clean don’t mean you don’t miss it
Ten months older, I won’t give in
Now that I’m clean I’m never gonna risk it
The drought was the very worst
When the flowers that we’d grown together died of thirst

[Chorus]
Rain came pouring down when I was drowning
That’s when I could finally breathe
And by morning gone was any trace of you
I think I am finally clean
Rain came pouring down when I was drowning
That’s when I could finally breathe
And by morning gone was any trace of you
I think I am finally clean

[Outro]
Finally clean
Think I’m finally clean
Think I’m finally clean

General Information
ArtistTaylor Swift
Album1989
ReleasedOctober 27, 2014
RecordedFebruary 9, 2014
StudioThe Hideaway (England)
GenreIndietronica
Length4:31
LabelBig Machine Records
SongwritersTaylor Swift
Imogen Heap
ProducersImogen Heap
Taylor Swift
1989 CHRONOLOGY
I Know PlacesCleanWonderland
Single Certification
Hidden Message
She lost him but she found herself and somehow that was everything
Song Artwork
Instagram Teaser
Polaroids
Tour Visual
Live Performance
Official Audio